Making Book Reviews Useful

After reading the excellent post at Abby the Librarian, Why it's Critical to Review (and Read) Critically, I started getting worried that my reviews on this blog were less than useful.

I have always acknowledged that I am not the most talented writer (or reviewer) out there. I notice that I tend to repeat phrases (I'm trying to be better about that) and I rarely delve deeply into the plot of the books. On the one hand, I don't see the point of re-inventing the wheel. If someone has already written a great plot review, why not just link to it in the "Want More?" section of each post? Similarly, I make a point of (for the most part) not reviewing books that many other people have already reviewed or are extremely well-known. Why review Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day, for example?

On the other hand, I hope to craft a review post that introduces a book in such a way that the reader (i.e. you) will know whether or not she wants to further investigate the book, either by reading other opinions of it, or by putting it on hold at the library. How do I do that? Well, I don't have a formula, and no doubt some posts are less successful that others -- depending on various factors such as my own fatigue level, time constraints or that mysterious thing we call inspiration.

This blog has a very limited focus, too: books with an urban setting. I always try to include my perspective on how the urban setting is represented in the book, what role it plays, and so forth. I suppose that is my unique take on a book -- what I see as making my reviews "useful" ... or not. It's probably also the factor that keeps my blog's readership low. In the beginning, I thought it would also be what would draw people to the blog. Shows you how much I know. I love books and I love the city, however, so I keep plugging away.

But back to my original point. I'd always love to know if there is anything in my individual reviews that you would like more of. What would make them more useful?


Megan D. Neal said...

I can't think of anything you need to change. I feel like I get a pretty good sense of the book from your reviews. And I think it's cool you've created a niche.

I feel your "pain". I don't know how helpful my reviews are either. It's an on-going learning process for me.

MaryAnne said...

In my mind, that post is more relevant for blogs that review books they are being sent by publishers (and who write a lot of those types of reviews, but not many reviews of books they found on their own).

On your blog, I assume that you are covering a book because you think it has something to offer your readers. I think your reviews provide a nice overview of the book that allows me to decide whether or not it's something my kids would enjoy. We request a lot of books from our library after reading your blog, and tend to enjoy them. I know you review books you are sent occasionally, and that's a nice way to be introduced to new books. I'm guessing you wouldn't agree to review a book that didn't at least sound interesting to you, and you seem very upfront about things you don't like about books.

Raising a Happy Child said...

I agree with MaryAnne. I read this blog because you review good children books with an interesting focus on specific settings. I especially enjoyed your Paris series, and we read a lot of the books you are recommending here. So to me your reviews are quite useful - thank you for doing them!

Brimful Curiosities said...

Every book reviewer has their own style of writing and reviewing. Are some styles better or more useful? This all depends on your audience and your intent.

I think your reviews are very useful for those of us that take the time to read them. Your reviews are concise and offer personal insights that I find helpful. A personal blog allows you to write in a way a professional reviewer would not, and I find a little personalization adds much to a review. Critical reviews serve a purpose, but I wouldn't worry too much about trying to fit a mold. Write about what inspires you and you're sure to inspire the rest of us.

Fanny Harville said...

Your reviews are well written, concise, and informative and I enjoy them! The "city" focus of the blog is interesting and I've come to trust your literary judgment by reading this and your other blog for quite a long time. I know my son and I are likely to respond similarly to the books you recommend. I say: keep doing what you do!

Storied Cities said...

Thanks everyone for your kind words. One thing I can say is that posting these reviews keeps me practicing and thinking about my writing skills.

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